A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
Last Friday 15 November, I had the pleasure of joining over 300 young people from across the UK in the House of Commons.
I was in the visitor’s gallery along with other British Youth Council guests and youth workers, watching proceedings at the annual UK Youth Parliament debate. The young people were active participants debating from the famous green benches, the front bench and at the dispatch box.
This was the fifth annual debate in the Commons chamber and was again chaired by the Speaker, the right honourable John Bercow MP, a staunch supporter of the British Youth Council and UK Youth Parliament and of young people’s involvement in democracy. This is the only occasion when people other than MPs are allowed into the chamber to hold a debate. It launched Parliament Week which seeks to promote broader involvement in and understanding of the democratic process and was also available to view online.
Make your Mark
The debate featured five topics which had emerged as key areas from the ‘Make your Mark’ ballot held earlier this year across the UK and in which 478,386 young people cast their vote – an 8.12% turnout of 11 – 18 population – it was almost a 100% increase on those voting in 2012.
Members and Deputy UKYP members made speeches proposing and opposing various topics, and additional points were made from those on the back benches who enthusiastically leapt from their seats to catch the Speaker’s eye and be invited to speak.
The speeches that were made, together with the passionate way they were delivered, as well as the points and arguments raised showed the enthusiasm, commitment and interest of those involve. It would be fair to say that the excitement at Westminster was something tangible. I felt very proud of all of those involved and although this is just one expression of youth voice, it highlighted, and endorsed, the need to listen to and take young people seriously, as well as empowering them to take an active role in society.
After around four hours of debating, the young people filed out of the chamber to formally vote for the national campaign for 2014.
The result was then declared by the speaker and it seemed wholly appropriate that the national campaign chosen should be ‘that 16 and 17 year olds should be given the vote in all public elections’.
The Curriculum for Life campaign will also be given priority in campaigning in England.
It was also pleasing to see that as well as Jon Berkow, Nick Hurd MP and Minister for the Cabinet Office should have spent the entire day in the Chamber alongside young people.
So that was the highlight of my week which – given the current climate – was a real lift.
However, the low point was learning that cuts of 79.4% cuts are proposed to Bradford Youth Service, which would just about wipe out LA services, with no plans or finance to help the voluntary sector fill the gap.
Naturally, young people will be badly affected and consequently, they have started a ‘Save our Services’ online petition to force a council debate and rethink. I wish them well, and hope that as with Hull and Sheffield, this will lead to a reduction in the proposed cuts.
A statutory duty
I welcome the recent Cabinet Office survey, circulated to all local authority Chief Executives and those leading local authority youth services which poses questions relating to a local authority’s statutory duty for ‘services and activities to improve young people’s well being’.
In addition, they are seeking to gain a baseline for this new and unknown area of CO responsibility. I recognise the current difficult financial climate and know the predictions relating to the future local authority obligations for adult and children’s social care which will leave little budget for anything else from 2017 onwards.
I do hope, however, that local authorities will reconsider what is meant by meeting their statutory duty and work with those organisations which may go on providing services, by working together to co-produce a strategy which seeks to meet young people’s needs and which is underpinned by professional training and quality standards.
Local authorities may not be able to provide youth work and youth services as has been done in the past, but surely they have a responsibility to ensure that young people still have access to high quality services, including open access youth work, which can help prepare young people for life as well as support them with problems they may face along the way.
Miriam Jackson CEO
Youth Work Unit – Yorkshire and the Humber